12/15/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
As Kate Capshaw's double in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Donna Keegan found herself skidding down a mountain on a rubber raft and leaping off a cliff into raging rapids. Her most impressive stunt, though, was landing the job. Keegan had never done a major stunt when she showed up on the set. "But they didn't know that," she says. "You don't always have to know what you're doing. You just have to make people believe it."
Keegan has made them believe. At 26, she is one of the most sought-after stuntwomen in a field long dominated by men. She is also among only a dozen women in Hollywood history who have made the jump from stunt performer to stunt coordinator—"and most of those," she says, "have only done it once." As stuntwoman, she expertly downshifted Kelly McGillis' Porsche through traffic in pursuit of Tom Cruise
in Top Gun. As coordinator, she oversaw Lionel Richie's music video Dancing on the Ceiling and has worked in movies and TV. Moreover Keegan has done it on brains, guts, athletic ability and sheer bluff. "When they asked, 'Do you do stunts?' I always said, 'Of course.' They didn't ask if I'd actually done them. Once on the set, I kept my mouth shut and paid attention."
Don't go trying this method at home. Keegan had a lot of relevant experience. The daughter of a truck driver in Laurence Harbor, N.J., she was badgering a local lifeguard to give her a lifesaving test at 4, and by 10 was swimming and diving in international meets. By the time knee problems forced her to quit at 18, she had amassed 32 medals—and won several beauty contests, including Miss Hemisphere of 1978. When she decided to try stunt work in L.A. at 20, she says, "it just came naturally." Predictably, stuntmen didn't appreciate her bravado, until she delivered. "When a man is tough," says Keegan, "they call him a professional. When a woman is tough, they call her words you can't print."
Last year Keegan married video producer Ken Yates, 39. The first time he saw his bride jump off a 40-foot scaffolding (on the set of the movie Space Camp), she reports, he "went pure white." Now she is cultivating straight acting roles and has feature parts in Kenny Rogers' new video and the movie Robocop. After all, Keegan says, who wants a husband to go around "wondering whether I'll come home in one piece?"